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For starters, yes I usually wear a helmet. It should be stunningly obvious in a crash the helmet can prevent some head injuries. Maybe they aren't optimum in their design yet, but they will help. But I see people get awfully high and mighty attitudes against non helmet users.

My real question is how safe is safe enough? Couldn't the risk of riding sans helmet be small enough one gets to choose? How safe does that need to be?

People slip and fall on level ground and die sometimes. Yet apparently we feel no need to regulate helmet use or castigate those walking around without helmets. Falls on stairs, and ladders are actually pretty high. Death from those two sources are about 400% of cycling deaths. Rates of deaths are probably still higher for cycling as fewer people cycle. Various sources of data estimate only 25%-35% of cycling deaths would be eliminated by universal helmet use.

Serious head injuries to cyclists are about 35-37% of all serious injuries to cyclists according to a few sources. Serious head injuries are 30-32% of all serious injuries from all causes. Serious head injuries are 43-45% of all serious injuries suffered by pedestrians. Seems pedestrians at least when outdoors around streets would benefit even more than cyclists from helmet use. Yet I see no one saying non-helmet donning pedestrians are foolish for being so unsafe.

Falls by people 65 and older are a big problem. Mostly due to hip fracture and next due to head injury. There probably is no place where some protection from these two things would pay anywhere close to the dividends it would here. Quality of life, and many billions of saved medical cost could accrue if everyone 65 and older wore light helmets and undergarments with hip pads at all times. Yet that isn't expected of them.

So sure, helmets could prevent a percentage of serious head injuries and deaths. Head injuries are the most correlated injury when a cyclist fatality occurs. Wearing a helmet is a plenty sensible thing to do. But always obeying traffic rules, never riding at night, or never riding after consuming alcohol, each of these has a much larger impact to cyclist safety than the use or non-use of a helmet.

So why the heavy handed berating of non-helmet users? Fatalities only occur at a rate of about 2.7 per million cyclists in a given year as cycling isn't generally a daredevil dangerous activity. According to some data the consumption of excess sugary drinks contributes more than two dozen times the risk that cycling does in total. It might do more for cyclist safety to convince cyclists to have only water in their cages than getting them to wear a helmet will accomplish

A couple of even handed treatments of the helmet effectiveness issue.

Cycle helmets - an overview

http://www.cyclehelmets.org/papers/c2023.pdf
 

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Well if you break some bones they can heal in most cases fully yet if you break your head it doesn't always heal. You have to mitigate the risks. I take off my helmet when I enter parks and ride at slow speeds but I would never consider riding on the roads without a helmet. It is a personal choice. The heavy handed berating of non-helmet users is from a few posters who are a shrimp or two short of a mixed grill.
 

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I wear a helmet and believe that most people should aswell. Over the last 3 years I've been in 5-6 major crashes, all of which I smashed my helmet. So I guess I would be brain dead 6 times over if I was too cool to wear a helmet.
 

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My real question is how safe is safe enough? Couldn't the risk of riding sans helmet be small enough one gets to choose? How safe does that need to be?
Helmets save lives, that's a fact. It's like having an "extra live" on a video game, a second chance. None can give you a persentage on how safe it is however, it always depends on the situation..
 

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There are no mandatory helmet laws in the vast majority of countries in the world. Why would anyone care if someone else voluntarily wears a helmet? You don't want to wear one? Great! Knock yourself out.
 

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Since 'I' am enlightened enough (read - convicted that it might protect what little brains I have in the event of an accident - it has many times) 'I' feel justified to educate those poor souls that do not see the wisdom of riding with a helmet.

Those used to be my thoughts when seeing someone on a bike without a helmet. Fortunately, I never acted on those sentiments. I have since taken a slightly less judgmental view and think about whether this rider would be better off sitting in front of a television drinking a 64 oz Big Gulp or exercising in a less than safe way. If I throw some 'enlightenment' on them they might just choose to avoid cycling altogether. Who does that help?

For now, I simply smile and wave with my helmet on. If they ask for an opinion I'll try to tell them why I choose to wear a helmet. Hopefully they'll see the light. Do I think they'd be wise to wear a helmet? Of course. At least they are outside exercising. That's more than a lot of folks do.
 

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I wear a helmet and believe that most people should aswell. Over the last 3 years I've been in 5-6 major crashes, all of which I smashed my helmet. So I guess I would be brain dead 6 times over if I was too cool to wear a helmet.
You don't need a helmet, you need training wheels.
 

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There's a mistake in focusing on fatalities and even 'serious' brain injuries, IMO. Even mild concussions aren't something to be trifled with in terms of their long-term impact on health. And too much of the available data is based on vehicular collisions, just as a matter of data gathering bias. But non-vehicular crashes are far more common, and vehicular crashes are in many cases rather beyond what the helmet was really meant to protect against. So the available data tends to show that they are marginally useful at preventing disaster. It's less good at showing what they do to protect against low grade, long term effects.

Regarding cycling vs. walking: We've established that a helmet is really about protecting against a fall, so it's a fair comparison. But a cyclist is rather taller than a ped, somewhat more precariously balanced, and because there's this cumbersome thing between their legs, rather less likely to be able to 'catch' themselves should they fall. Which leads to:

A useful point, I think: This is especially true for us on a 'racing' bike, in an aggressive riding position and using cleated pedals, and moving at speeds that can make it harder to avoid road imperfections that could catch a wheel, etc. Tooling around on a flat-pedal cruiser changes the risk profile, both of falling, and of what that fall looks like. That doesn't mean a helmet isn't still a good idea, but maybe it makes the odds of it making a difference during any given ride small enough to be considered statistical noise, and maybe it's reasonable to go without.

A little off-topic, but something I noted in the first link: The Spaite finding that non-helmeted riders tended to be in higher impact crashes than helmeted riders. Interesting how that could be played both ways: On the one hand, it would tend to neutralize some of the statistical analysis, while on the other, it nullifies the "people wearing helmets feel invincible and so do more stupid crap." In that respect, I'd argue the opposite is true - it's not that people ride one way or another because of their helmets, but that they wear helmets in concert with how they act generally. Helmet wearers are generally thinking more of safety, helmetless riders less so. But neither accounts for road conditions, other road users, and so on.

It's completely silly to argue that helmets aren't useful. It's fully reasonable to argue that in given circumstances, the likelihood of a head impact in their range of effective protection (hard enough to matter, light enough not to be irrelevant) is so small as not to matter. And in that respect, the Dutch commuter and the American roadie have relatively little in common.
 

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There's a mistake in focusing on fatalities and even 'serious' brain injuries, IMO. Even mild concussions aren't something to be trifled with in terms of their long-term impact on health.
Very true statement and our knowledge of this is growing dramatically. However, how does a bike helmet change the grade of a concussion? Or prevent brain injury?
 

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... Maybe they aren't optimum in their design yet, ...
What's optimum is a matter of opinion. It is a result of of valuing and making tradeoffs between amount of protection, weight, comfort, ventilation, cosmetics, available technology and cost. For some, optimum is no helmet, for others it's a full face motorcycle helmet. For most of us, it's what we typical see offered as bicycling helmets: flashy 300gm of thin polyester plastic and Styrofoam that sell for $50-200.
 

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A useful point, I think: This is especially true for us on a 'racing' bike, in an aggressive riding position and using cleated pedals, and moving at speeds that can make it harder to avoid road imperfections that could catch a wheel, etc. Tooling around on a flat-pedal cruiser changes the risk profile, both of falling, and of what that fall looks like. That doesn't mean a helmet isn't still a good idea, but maybe it makes the odds of it making a difference during any given ride small enough to be considered statistical noise, and maybe it's reasonable to go without.
Which is exactly why I don't find the "no one in Copenhagen/Amsterdam/Oslo/Wherever wears a helmet" insufficient to convince me to leave mine at home here. If I were bike commuting in a major European city, with dedicated bike lanes and drivers who've been accustomed to seeing bikes as part of the scene, I probably wouldn't bother, either.

When I'm in Helsinki, I rarely see helmets. But when we're out in rural Alajarvi, where my wife's cousins live, cyclists wear helmets out on the open roads.
 

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I can understand that people have a choice, at least in most states, whether to wear a helmet or not. I, for one, do not want to see people have less freedom of choice. I always wear a helmet, and I believe it has saved my life. I was sideswiped by a hit and run driver six years ago; suffered a separated shoulder, broken clavicle, and a concussion. I, and the emergency room doctors, believe that the helmet saved me from serious brain injury or death. I see others without helmets, wish they would wear them, but I do think it is a choice as to wear them.
 

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"So why the heavy handed berating of non-helmet users?"
Because we like to pick on people who don't share the exact opinions as we do.
 
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